The Class 3A state playoffs begin this week with three Midlands teams beginning their trek through the Lower State bracket.
Darlington (4-6) at Airport (10-0)
Game notes: Airport wrapped up the school’s first perfect regular-season performance last week with a 39-17 win over Brookland-Cayce … The Eagles, especially the current senior class, is now focused on breaking through on the playoff side. Airport has been eliminated in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs in each of the past two seasons … Darlington may not have an impressive record, but the Falcons have some big-time talent, especially kick returner/runner/receiver Victor Hampton, a transfer from Charlotte’s Independence High, and quarterback Dustin Dubose. This is no ordinary No. 4 seed … The Falcons will find a number of challenges, as well. Airport’s explosive, balanced attack is equally adept at putting up big numbers and land or air. Third-year quarterback W.T. Murden makes it all work. The veteran leader has 1,031 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns on 129 carries. He is 122-for-184 passing for 1,700 yards and 21 TDs with just one interception. Ryan Smith has 1,153 yards and 13 TDs on 144 carries and has caught 11 passes for 91 yards and two other scores in addition to solid work on the punt and kickoff return teams. Murden has plenty of viable targets at receiver – Derek Cushman (31-427-6), Josh Salley (29-494-3), Deonne Hopkins (24-401-7) and Sam McCllelan (18-180-2) … Chris Phillips (115 tackles), Charlie Crane (112 tackles) and Shawn Felder (104 tackles) are among the leaders on defense … Airport is 20-22 all-time in playoff action. The postseason highlight remains the 4A state runner-up showing by the 1980 team, which included current Eagles coach Kirk Burnett on the roster.
South Aiken (4-6) at Camden (7-3)
Game notes: The Bulldogs suffered a bitter 14-7 loss in last week’s Region 6-3A title showdown with Marlboro County ... Camden’s first home playoff game since 2004 with feature the first ever football meeting of the Bulldogs and Thoroughbreds – the No. 3 seed out of Region 5-3A … South Aiken features a strong ground game with running back Chris Johnson being the key operative … Camden’s attack is generated by quarterback Josh Council (87-for-189 passing, 1,546 yards, 21 TDs), running back SaVonn Wingate (167-921-10) and receivers Alvonta Jenkins (29-628-7) and Glenn Quattlebaum (28-496-9) … The tough Bulldogs defense features Sterling Green (94 tackles), Melquan Lee (83 tackles), Zack Neal (79 tackles, 5 TFL), Jerel Robinson (75 tackles, 15 TFL, 3 sacks), Sheldon Wright (53 tackles, 11 TFL), Sjahbar Stewart (53 tackles, 13 TFL, 5 sacks) and Tim Dixon (6 TFL, 3 sacks) … Camden is 18-8 during Jimmy Neal’s 12-year tenure as the head coach. The Bulldogs have a little added incentive this week. A win will be Neal’s 100th at his alma mater.
Dreher (3-7) at Marlboro County (10-0)
Game notes: The Blue Devils earned a spot in the Class 3A state playoff for the first time since 2006 by way of a 35-14 rout of Swansea last week. He reward is a trip to Bennettsville to face unbeaten Marlboro County in the first round … There were quite a few highlights in Dreher’s playoff-clinching win. Leonard Kennedy ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Farrington Huguenin (13 tackles), Shane Van Dyke (10 tackles) and Rashon Fenderson (73-yard interception return TD) stepped it up on the defensive side … The Blue Devils hope to keep the ball way from the potent Bulldogs attack by controlling the clock with its running game featuring Kennedy (162-1237-12), Sheldon Van Dyke (117-623-8), Jackson Edwards (67-479-4) and Devante Sims (77-414-0) … Dreher has won only once in eight playoffs tries since 1970 – a 21-14 success vs. Cheraw in 1994 … Marlboro County is 24-15 in playoff matters, and are 17-8 with two state championships at the 4A level since Dr. Dean Boyd took charge of the floundering program in 1997 … The Bulldogs advanced to the 3A Lower State championship game last season and were sent backing by title-bound Myrtle Beach.